In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George

Book description:
Calder Moor is a wild and deadly place: many have been trapped in the myriad limestone caves, lost in collapsed copper mines, injured on perilous ridges. But when two bodies are discovered in the shadow of the ancient circle of stones known as Nine Sisters Henge, it is clearly not a case for Mountain Rescue.

The corpses are those of a young man and woman. Each met death in a different fashion. Each died violently. To Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, this grisly crime promises to be one of the toughest of his career. For the unfortunate Nicola Maiden was the daughter of a former officer in an elite undercover unit, a man Lynley once regarded as a mentor.

Now, as Lynley struggles to find out if Nicola’s killer was an enemy of her father’s or one she earned herself, Barbara Havers, his longtime partner, crisscrosses London seeking information on the second victim. Yet the more dark secrets Lynley and Havers uncover, the more they learn that neither the victims nor the suspects are who they appear to be… that human relationships are often murderous… and that the blood that binds can also kill.

Once again, Elizabeth George has created an intriguing mystery—perhaps her most complicated yet easy-to-follow case to date—while ensuring that the interactions between the lead detectives remain the most compelling part of the story.

The two victims in this case—Nicola Maiden and Terry Cole—are found on a moor in Derbyshire, and Lynley is specifically requested to work the case by the Nicola’s father, a former special operations officer for whom he worked briefly earlier in his career. Heading up the local investigation is DI Peter Hanken, a chain-smoking family man whose manner of speech frequently put me in mind of Gene Hunt. Hanken’s convinced that Nicola’s father is responsible, and while Lynley can’t buy that, he is still convinced that Nicola was the target, especially as more details of her not-so-wholesome lifestyle emerge.

Enter Havers. After the events of Deception on His Mind, in which she not only disobeyed a director order but fired a gun at a superior officer, Barbara has spent the last three months on suspension pending the results of an inquiry. She is ultimately demoted to Detective Constable and at first attributes the fact that she still remains with CID at all to Lynley’s advocacy, but it turns out that he is quite critical of her actions. He assigns her various menial tasks connected to the Derbyshire case but, headstrong as ever, Havers follows her hunch that the key to the murders lies with Terry Cole, not Nicola Maiden.

She works that end of things in London, enlisting the more-charming-the-more-we-see-of-him DC Winston Nkata to help her. (Seriously, Nkata is fun. When are we going to get something from his perpsective?) Lynley gets increasingly fed up with her defiance and I swear… the tension between them kept me on the edge of my seat much more than the murder investigation itself. It was like watching two friends keep doing things to irritate and alienate the other while being completely unable to help. How could I not sympathize with Barbara as she doggedly works to get at the truth? But at the same time, how could I not cringe when her actions drive her further and further out of Lynley’s good graces? The resolution to all this comes about a little too conveniently, but I’m too relieved to be too critical.

The case itself is particularly multi-layered, and I marvel that George is able to keep all of these balls in the air while never losing the reader. There’s not too much with Lynley’s personal life in this volume—aside from Lady Helen’s involvement in patching things up with Barbara—but Barbara’s makes some progress. Her neighbor, Taymullah Azhar, has been trying to get the details of what happened in Essex and ultimately learns that Barbara wound up demoted because she wouldn’t let his daughter, Hadiyyah, be left to drown. So now he feels tremendous gratitude to her and it almost looks at one point like he’s confessing more romantic feelings but now I am unsure again. The thought of awkward, sloppy Barbara trying to navigate a romantic relationship fills me with utter squee, though, so I will continue to hope that matters develop in that direction.

If you’re looking for a well-written mystery series with a serious claim to the label “literature,” then the Inspector Lynley series might be for you. I’ll be diving into the next book as soon as I post this review!

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